Tax Break Passes 5-4

The Bremerton City Council voted 5-4 Wednesday in favor of a tax break for developers of multi-family condos within downtown, and eventually for other areas designated “city centers.”

Some council members, namely Mike Shepherd and Wendy Priest, called for more planning of downtown before encouraging development. They also questioned whether the break was needed. The majority was convinced the tax break now, rather than later, would better keep downtown’s momentum going. And they said enough design guidelines and other zoning codes were in place to make sure the city gets the kind of development it wants.

To answer one question here, waterfront properties would not be eligible for this, because the theory is those properties don’t need the incentive of an exemption. The area chosen is being considered a place to “test” the ordinance, according to Council President Cecil McConnell and City Councilman Brad Gehring.

Prior to the council deliberations 11 members of the public testified on the measure. They were 5-5 on the issue. The one person who didn’t say whether she was for or against it was Helen Miller, who I would bet was against it. KAPO’s Vivian Henderson was the first one up and characterized it as unfair to people who’ve been paying their property taxes for years.

Before it went to the council I listed the council members in my notebook and tried to guess how they would vote. I thought it would go 6-3 in favor of the measure, but I was wrong when I thought Brad Gehring would vote “no” and when I thought Dianne Robinson and Carol Arends would vote “yes.”

Over the past couple months I’ve spoken with people from Tacoma and this week from Bellingham and they all credit the incentive with turning around their downtowns. They may be right, but it’s an issue you could never prove one way or the other. Tacoma transformed and you could surmise the strategy worked, but other elements were in place. If a community adopts the exemption and it doesn’t work, you can’t really blame the exemption. Certain other things have to be going your way.

The first project Bellingham saw was a drab apartment complex with surface parking. One person was disappointed with me that I pointed that out in Tuesday’s story, saying real estate realities make surface parking a poor financial decision. That may be correct. However, Tacoma has had nine years and Bellingham seven to look back and weigh how tthe strategy worked. Check back here in 2013.

3 thoughts on “Tax Break Passes 5-4

  1. correction Steve – there are design guidelines for the Highland/Pleasant area only – the portion of the downtown core in the ‘targeted boundry’ area does NOT have design guidelines, and has had no community input.

  2. …and while Bremerton’s City Council lines the fat cats’ pockets with generous tax incentives to develop more downtown condos, I, a modest condo owner in West Bremerton, am being asked to pay real estate taxes that rise annually by 20 percent or more. Am I, in a round-about way, paying more taxes to make the fat cats richer? I take notice that the county has not yet revealed what it is doing with its windfall revenues caused by appreciating property values…which does me no darn good, since I can’t afford to live anywhere else.

    —Richard Emery

  3. Though I can respect a difference of opinion on this issue, I am glad the measure passed. People often do not recognize the connection between the pro-active use of planning and economic development tools and the relative vibrancy of their community. A vibrant community with a high quality of life seldom simply happens. It takes foresight, imagination, and the willingness to take risks, one of which is the incurring of the wrath of those not called upon to make those difficult decisions. Anyway, since I don’t plan to sell the house I own in Manette, the rapid appreciation in property values only leads to more taxes to pay. I pay them willingly as part of the cost of ensuring the services that we all have come to expect from our government and yet are so easy to take for granted. I suspect, unlike rapid property value appreciation, the tax exemption for the downtown area will not even register on my tax bill. I do think, however, its effect will eventually register in two interconnected places – the City’s coffers (as a result of increased tax revenues from spending in new shops, etc.) and the added quality of life that the continued revitalization of downtown will bring.

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